Tag Archives: mental health

5 Ideas to Boost Your Mental Resilience

Conversations around psychological, mental and emotional health are evolving. While stigma still exists in some communities when it comes to discussing mental health, we all play a role in reducing these barriers. Starting open discussions with yourself and others about your thoughts and emotions is important during the COVID-19 crisis and can help make you more resilient.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and resulted in approximately 48,000 deaths in 2018. However, suicide is preventable. Talking openly about suicide without fear or shame is helpful and encourages help-seeking behavior and effective intervention.

While individuals of all backgrounds and identities may grapple with addressing or improving their mental health, men are featured as a potentially  vulnerable group due to their lower instances of help-seeking behavior. Men die at a higher rate by suicide than women.  One study notes: “too often many men do not talk about feeling down, sad, or depressed, and might not mention emotional or behavioral difficulties at all … although asking for help is difficult for many people, it is well documented that men tend to be reluctant to seek help in various contexts, including help for mental health concerns.”

Since June is Men’s Health Month, we want to highlight opportunities to support men – and everyone – in increasing their mental immunity:

Get enough sleep and rest. Sleep helps us process our experiences and recharge our mind and bodies for what’s ahead. Review common myths around sleep and ways to improve your sleep habits from Real Warriors. It’s okay to feel tired and to take time to rest. Pausing on a task or something you are working on is not a sign of giving up. Although it may seem like there are not enough hours in the day, taking short, 15-minute microbreaks may help you feel more focused and energized.

Grow and nurture your support network. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center outlines how “positive and supportive social relationships and community connections can help buffer the effects of risk factors in people’s lives.” Asking for help is a sign of strength, and building strong social ties leads to a happier and more fulfilled life. Instead of worrying about something, talk it out with a trusted friend or family member. Leaning on others when you need support does not detract from your personal strength – it just helps grow it.

Prioritize self-care. Self-care isn’t limited to cucumber face masks – it means different things to everyone and can be viewed through the lens of several health aspects. Self-care can be physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual or social, whether that means taking time to go for a relaxing bike ride, journaling your thoughts or reading a great book. Learn more about opportunities for self-care from the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center’s fact sheet on Psychological Toughness.

Role model positive behaviors and actions. Once you’ve developed a few healthy habits or found things that help you unwind, share them with others. Finding opportunities to informally mentor or provide advice to others may help you feel more refreshed. It’s okay to not have all of the answers and to ask questions.

Stay open to change. Several things in life look different over time, and we’re often faced with periods of uncertainty. You may not be able to control every aspect of your life, but you can control your response. Recognize and reflect on the good parts of the day and feel empowered to address adversity by responding more mindfully. When a stressful event occurs, take a moment to stop, regroup and ask yourself how you choose to respond. Focusing on putting energy into what you can control instead of putting energy to things outside of your control can help you feel more grounded.

If you or someone in your network is having a hard time, connect with resources that can help, like the Military Crisis Line. Call 24/7: 1-800-273-8255, press 1, text 838255 or chat.

Reframing Stress to Help You Grow

Stress takes on many forms and looks different for everyone. Recognizing and addressing your stressors before they escalate to distress is important. Even understanding the physical signs of stress unique to you (e.g., muscle tension, upset stomach) helps your mind feel more empowered to transform anxious thoughts to more relaxed feelings.

According to the American Institute of Stress, stress can produce both positive and negative impacts on individuals physically, emotionally or mentally. The Cleveland Clinic mentions how stress that progresses to distress may lead to headaches, elevated blood pressure, problems sleeping and a heightened sense of anxiousness. Sometimes, intrusive thoughts or memories lead to heightened anxiety. Addressing feelings when you feel them is important, even if that means trying new behavioral techniques or taking a break to help you stay healthy.

Eustress, also commonly referred to as “good stress,” may actually help you learn new skills, navigate major life changes and determine how to effectively address new roles and responsibilities. Too much eustress is not good, but when experienced in manageable moments, it can improve our well-being. Successfully overcoming smaller stressors helps build resilience and equips you with the tools to address other concerns. Positive thinking often goes hand-in-hand with eustress and may help you view perceived barriers as opportunities to grow rather than challenges that feel overwhelming or cumbersome. Setting reasonable expectations, giving yourself daily affirmations or expressing gratitude may also help boost your outlook.

The Navy Suicide Prevention Program’s Stress Navigation Plan contains actionable strategies for how to recognize and respond to stress. Thinking more positively is made easier once you’ve set healthy habits. Consider these ideas from the American Heart Association:

AMA

For more ideas on how to understand your stressors and refocus your stress, try completing activities from this worksheet from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

How to Get Started Journaling

MINDFULNESS hand-lettered sketch notes in notepad on wooden desk with cup of coffee and pens

As we’re in the month of New Year’s resolutions, it is important to take a moment to reflect on the past and the opportunities for growth that lie ahead.  If one of your goals is to live more mindfully and empathetically this year, consider committing to regular journaling.  While journaling is not a one-size-fits-all solution to following your full self-care plan, journaling can have several benefits for your psychological, emotional and relationship health.  Recording your thoughts and feelings is often useful when navigating stressful experiences, revisiting interpersonal dynamics and reflecting on your evolving activities and perspectives.

According to the University of Rochester’s Medical Center, journaling can advance your well-being by:  “helping you prioritize problems, fears and concerns, tracking any symptoms day-to-day so that you can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them and providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors.”  Jumpstart your journaling with these tips:

Carve out time.  Like forming any other healthy habit, devoting time and energy to journaling will help establish the practice as a routine part of your schedule.  Picking a specific time of day devoted to journaling may also help solidify the norm.  Whether its daily, twice a week or a few times a month, consider making a goal about the frequency of creating your entries that effectively fits in to your calendar.

Let go of ideas of what you “should” write.  You may be thinking – what is worth recording?  How do I get all of my thoughts out on a page?  What details should I include or leave out?  By eliminating any parameters, you’ll be able to think more about journaling with a stream-of-consciousness mindset.  This could lead to increased self-discovery and a more representative picture of what’s on your mind and your types of responses to different situations.  There’s no correct or incorrect way to journal, and how you document different experiences is completely up to your preference.

Get inspired if you feel stuck.  While journaling and other forms of self-reflection may create an uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability, there are several accessible resources and frameworks to leverage as prompts or inspiration.  Your entries could focus on highlighting items such as:  one positive thing you did for someone over the course of a day, an affirmation to yourself, or one memorable expression of gratitude from your week. Finding prompts online that resonate with you can help you progress and lead to new ideas.  If you’re in a hurry, here’s a quick list of prompts that can help you process and write about something going on in your life:

  • What’s on my mind?
  • How should I have reacted in hindsight?
  • How are things different now?
  • What would I say to a younger version of myself?
  • What am I grateful for?
  • Who helped me?

Choose the right format for you.  Journaling is often associated with physically writing down thoughts and feelings via a pen and paper.  If picking out a new notebook isn’t something that gets you motivated, consider exploring different digital apps that offer online spaces for journaling.  You could devote a specific section of your planner or calendar tool for journal notes and entries.  If you prefer to learn and communicate more visually, you could opt to include forms of artistic expression to complement or substitute entries (e.g., photo collages, graphics, paintings).

For more ideas on how to live mindfully this year, check out these other articles from our blog:

Alcohol and the Mind – Mental Health Month 2019

If you’ve ever had one drink too many, you know that alcohol affects your entire body. But how does drinking affect your mental state and the health of your brain? Many factors, such as how much and how often you drink, your age and gender, and your general health, have an impact on how alcohol affects your brain. The research is clear, though. Alcohol can affect your mental health in the short and long term.

How Alcohol Works in the Brain

Alcohol works directly on the neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are the messengers that send signals to control thought processes, behaviors and emotions. When you drink, you increase the effects of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA – and that’s what causes the slurred speech and slow movements associated with alcohol. In addition, alcohol increases the amount of dopamine released in your brain. Dopamine is the “reward” chemical, and it’s responsible for the feelings of pleasure some feel when drinking. According to American Addiction Centers , drinking alcohol also decreases your brain’s pre-frontal cortex activity. The pre-frontal cortex is your brain’s decision-making area and less activity means it’s harder to think clearly.

Short-term Mental Health Risks

Some people turn to alcohol to ease social anxiety, but those same effects can be harmful. Alcohol use can lead to lowered inhibitions and poor social judgment. You may speak or act without thinking, or feel like your emotions are out of control.

Drinking alcohol can also result in insomnia. Even minimal drinking can disrupt normal sleep patterns. Sleep is a key component of a healthy mental state.

Blackouts are one of the most damaging short-term effects of alcohol use. A blackout is a short-term memory lapse. Your behavior during the blackout may be harmful to yourself or others, but you don’t know, because you can’t remember it.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), people with a history of alcohol abuse or dependence were two to three times more likely to have an anxiety episode. At least one study from the Archives of General Psychiatry suggests that alcohol abuse may lead to an increased risk of depression. Researchers said that genetic factors may trigger major depression in some drinkers, and that social, financial and legal issues caused by drinking may also play a part in the connection.

Long-term Mental Health Risks

According the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , heavy drinking is generally considered four or more drinks in one day or eight or more drinks per week for women, and five or more drinks in one day or 15 or more drinks per week for men. Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks over two hours for women and five or more drinks over two hours for men. Heavy drinkers, especially those who drink long-term, are at risk for many health disorders. Recent research from NIAAA found that long-term heavy alcohol use resulted in pronounced brain shrinkage. The structural integrity of the white matter of the brain was significantly reduced in heavy compared to light drinkers.

Long-term alcohol overuse can lead to poor recall and the ability to form memories. An article in Scientific American recently stated “long-standing alcohol abuse can damage nerve cells and permanently impact memory and learning.”

Navy Alcohol Abuse Prevention (NAAP) encourages Sailors to make responsible choices if they choose to drink, and to take an honest look at their alcohol use. You can use the Keep What You’ve Earned Campaign’s (KWYE) Pier Pressure mobile app to take an anonymous self-check of your drinking habits. If you think your drinking is impacting your work or relationships, or if you suspect you may be struggling with addiction, the Navy’s non-disciplinary self-referral process allows you to seek help and remain an active duty Sailor. Learn the facts about self-referral in this article from All Hands Magazine.

Mental Health Month: Finding Work-Life Balance in the Navy

Concept of harmony and balance. Balance stones against the sea.

May is Mental Health Month and cultivating a healthy work-life balance is key to navigating the stress of Navy life. The idea of work-life balance may seem at odds with the duties of a U.S. Navy Sailor.  When the Navy calls, Sailors answer. Unpredictable schedules, lengthy hours and assignments away from home are some of the many challenges Sailors face. However, there are ways to optimize your own work-life balance, no matter what your job in the Navy.

The Effects of Chronic Stress

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is key to reducing stress and preventing burnout. When professional demands prevent you from taking time for yourself, you’re at risk of living in a state of chronic stress, and that can have major impact on your mental and physical health. A 2015 study by the British Heart Foundation found that chronic stress led to less-than-optimal health choices, including poor diets, lack of exercise and excessive drinking and smoking among millions of workers. The National Institute of Mental Health also cites digestive symptoms, headaches, sleeplessness and sadness as other potential consequences of ongoing stress.

Top Tips for Work-Life Balance

So with all these consequences at risk, how can you improve work-life balance? We’ve gathered some of the top tips, including some tips that are specifically for families and for leaders.

For Everyone:

  • Prioritize and set manageable goals. When we have goals in place, and we are able to complete them, it helps us have a sense of accomplishment and control. Setting priorities every day can help you gain clarity on what really matters. Be realistic about your workload and deadlines and communicate if you need help. Don’t forget to set personal goals as well!  Choose one personal goal and consistently take one small step towards that goal – it can help you balance work demands if you are working towards something for yourself at the same time.
  • Cut yourself some slack. You’re allowed to be human and to make mistakes. Sometimes, everything won’t get done as quickly as you’d like it. It happens to everyone. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and be kind to yourself. Ask for help and be forgiving of yourself and others.

For Sailors with Families:

  • Don’t take your work home. If possible, leave your work at work. Turn off e-mail notifications when you can – in fact, ditch the phone as much as possible. Set boundaries around what you will and won’t be available for during off duty hours and stick to them.
  • Nurture your personal network. There are a million ways to stay connected these days, so take advantage of them when you’re away from home. Whether communicating in person or electronically, give those closest to you the undivided attention they deserve. Ask questions about their days, and really listen to their answers.

For Leaders:

If you’re in a leadership role, you can help others to create a healthy work-life balance by modeling one yourself. In addition to the tips above, here are some ways to impact the way your team navigates stress and competing priorities.

  • Listen to your team. Meet with your team to discuss deadlines, workloads and overtime hours. You may not be able to change mission demands, but you can find common ground with those around you about meeting those demands. Try to set realistic expectations with your team, and listen if they are struggling under workloads that could lead to burnout. Be sure to regularly ask for feedback, and practice active listening skills when you receive it.  Focusing closely on your team’s responses will help build trust within your team, so they will be more likely to provide honest, thoughtful feedback.
  • Send them home when you can. Some days will require your whole team for long hours. Most days won’t. When possible, send people home early from time to time. You can expect them to give 100% when you really need them if you try to get them home when it counts most.

Additional Resources

The Navy Operational Stress Control (OSC) Program promotes an understanding of stress, awareness of support resources, and provides practical stress navigation tools to help build resilience of Sailors, families, and commands. OSC Mobile Training Teams (MTTs) deploy to provide face-to-face training to assist Sailors and their families with navigating stress. Learn more about these courses here.

The Navy Fleet and Family Support Program offers resources and training to support service members and their families for the physical, emotional, interpersonal and logistical demands of military life. Learn more about their programs and services here.

Military OneSource has information on specialty consultations and a variety of resources to assist with the unique challenges faced by service members and their families. Learn more on their website here.